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Guilty Pleas in Cases Where Defendant Does Not Admit Guilt – What Can Lawyers Do?

September 19, 2016

The Ontario Superior Court had an interesting case before them, R. v. Cameron, 2014 ONSC 2093, which saw a defendant strike out his guilty pleas and replace his counsel. The reason being, the defendant had entered a plea of guilty when he never confessed to committing the crime, and instead felt pressured by his counsel to accept the plea. 

The charges against the defendant were one count of drug trafficking and one assault. The judge saw both the defendant and his counsel at a pre-trial hearing where a joint submission in the event the defendant plead guilty was under discussion. The defendant asked for an additional day to consider his plea. The next day, the accused and his counsel entered a plea of guilty, with the judge repeatedly asking both counsel and the defendant whether they were sure of their plea, whether it was being entered voluntarily, and whether counsel had the time to conduct a plea inquiry with the defendant. The answers to each question were in the affirmative. 

Several weeks later, the defendant arrived at court with new counsel, and notified the court he wished to strike his pleas. The evidence presented showed that the defendant had never admitted guilt to his lawyer, and that former counsel had not conducted a plea inquiry prior to the defendant pleading guilty. The judge agreed that counsel had analyzed the facts and felt that the defendant’s case would not be successful; the judge also agreed that counsel had negotiated a deal for his client as a result of this. 

The judge accepted the defendant’s evidence and found that he did feel pressure into pleading guilty. As a result, the judge struck the guilty pleas, and the case proceeded to trial. 

The significance of the case is it reinforces that lawyers are unable to enter a guilty plea for a client who does not admit guilt.

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